“Hummingbird Cake aka Doctor Bird Cake”

Below is a small article about the dessert known as Hummingbird Cake aka Doctor Bird Cake:

“HUMMINGBIRD CAKE AKA DOCTOR BIRD CAKE”

One of the dishes that became very familiar to me as a child was the dessert known as the Hummingbird Cake. At least to others. My grandmother, who used to prepare it a lot when I was a child, called it the Doctor Bird Cake. And for years, I used believe this dessert had originated in the American South. Well . . . I was wrong.

Contrary to what many Americans believe, the Hummingbird Cake had originated on the island of Jamaica. The cake’s actual creator remains unknown. However, the dessert itself was named after the island’s national bird – the hummingbird. The latter is also known by another name – Doctor Bird. And this is how the dessert acquired its nicknamed. The Hummingbird Cake was created on Jamaica during the 1950s or around the beginning of the 1960s. The ingredients for the cake consisted of flour, sugar, salt, vegetable oil, ripe banana, pineapple, cinnamon, vanilla extract, eggs, and leavening agent.

Following its initial popularity, the Jamaica Tourist Board exported the recipe for Hummingbird Cake, along with other local Jamaican recipes, in media press kits sent to the USA in 1968. The marketing was aimed at American consumers to get them to come to the island. The March 29, 1979 issue of the Kingston Daily Gleaner (Jamaica) stated: “Press kits presented included Jamaican menu modified for American kitchens, and featured recipes like the doctor bird cake, made from bananas.” One of the first publications in the United States to feature the receipe for Hummingbird Cake was the February 1979 issue of Southern Living, thanks to writer L.H. Wiggins. Once the recipe reached the Southern United States, two other ingredients – chopped pecans and cream cheese frosting.

Here is a recipe from Southern Living for Hummingbird Cake:

Hummingbird Cake aka Doctor Bird Cake

Ingredients – Cake Layers
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained (such as Publix Crushed Pineapple in Pineapple Juice)
2 cups chopped ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Vegetable shortening

Ingredients – Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened
2 (16-oz.) pkg. powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Ingredients – Additional
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted

Preparations
Step 1 – Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Step 2 – Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

Step 3 – Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely, about 1 hour.

Step 4 – Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Step 5 – Assemble Cake. Place 1 Cake Layer on a serving platter; spread top with 1 cup of the frosting. Top with second layer, and spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with third layer, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange pecan halves on top of cake.

Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” Season Four (1995-1996)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Four of “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE”. Created by Rick Berman and Michael Piller; the series starred Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko:

 

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” SEASON FOUR (1995-1996)

 

1. (4.08) “Little Green Men” – Deep Space Nine’s bar owner Quark and his brother Rom take the latter’s son Nog to Starfleet Academy on Earth. But a malfunction with the ship sends the crew back in time, to 1947 Roswell, New Mexico. Megan Gallagher, Charles Napier and Conor O’Farrell guest starred.

 

 

2. (4.10) “Our Man Bashir” – When a transporter emergency turns the station’s command crew into holosuite characters in Dr. Julian Bashir’s James Bond program, the situation takes on a deadly reality. Ken Marshall guest-starred.

 

 

3. (4.03) “The Visitor” – Sometime in the future, an aspiring writer named Melanie, wants to know why an older Jake Sisko stopped writing at age 40. Jake reveals how his father, Captain Benjamin Sisko, had died in an accident and then suddenly reappeared. Tony Todd guest-starred.

 

 

4. (4.20) “For the Cause” – Sisko face betrayal when evidence surfaces that his girlfriend Kasidy Yates is smuggling for the Maquis. Meanwhile, former spy/tailor Garak makes acquaintance with Gul Dukat’s daughter, Ziyal. Penny Johnson and Ken Marshall guest starred.

 

 

5. (4.20) “Shattered Mirror” – When the Mirror Universe counterpart of Sisko’s deceased wife, Jennifer Sisko, lures Jake to the other side; Sisko must follow and help the Terran resistance against the Alliance forces. Felecia M. Bell guest starred.

 

 

Honorable Mention: (4.26) “Broken Link” – Station security chief Odo is suddenly struck by illness and he is barely able to hold shape. Bashir and Odo see no other alternative than going to the Founders. Salome Jens guest starred.

“SILAS MARNER” (1985) Review

“SILAS MARNER” (1985) Review

I have seen a handful of television and movie adaptations of novels written by George Eliot. But the very first adaptation I ever saw was “SILAS MARNER”, the 1985 version of Eliot’s third novel published back in 1861. My recent viewing of the production led me to reasses it.

“SILAS MARNER” begins with an English weaver living with a small Calvinist congregation in Lantern Yard, a slum street in a Northern England city. His life falls apart when he is framed for stealing the church’s funds, while watching over the congregation’s ill deacon. Worse, his fiancee leaves him for his so-called best friend, the very man who may have framed him. Shattered and embittered, Silas leaves Lantern Yard and arrives at a rural village in the Midlands called Raveloe. Although he resumes his trade as a weaver, Silas’ traumatized past leads him to achieve a reputation as a miser and a loner in the community.

Silas’ move to Raveloe eventually leads him to cross paths with the community’s leading citizens, the Cass family. The head of the latter is the elderly Squire Cass who has two sons – Godfrey and Dunstan. Godfrey, who is the squire’s heir is secretly married to one Molly Farren, a lower-class woman and opium addict from another town, who has given birth to his young daughter. Godfrey is also engaged to a young middle-class woman named Nancy Lammeter. Dunstan is a dissolute wastrel who constantly loses money via excessive gambling. One night, a drunken Dunstan breaks into Silas’ cottage, steals the gold coins that the latter has been hoarding and disappears. Through a series of events, Molly plots to expose her marriage to Godfrey and their child during the Cass family’s New Year party, but dies in the snow before she can reach it. Silas, who is emotionally upset over the loss of his coins, finds both the dead Molly and the child. Although he informs the partygoers of Molly’s death and the child, he assumes guardianship of the latter (renamed Hephzibah “Eppie”), much to the relief of Godfrey, who can now legally marry Nancy. All goes well until Godfrey and Nancy’s failure to have children threaten Silas’ newfound happiness as Eppie’s father years later.

What can I say about “SILAS MARNER”? I can honestly say that it was not one of the best adaptations of a George Eliot novel. Then again, I do not consider the 1861 novel to be one of her best works. I realized that Eliot had set the story either around the end of the 18th century or around the beginning of the 19th century. It was her prerogative. But both the novel and the movie seemed to reek of Victorian melodrama that I found myself feeling that Eliot or any adaptation could have set the story around the time it was originally written and published – the mid 19th century. The story is, at best, a good old-fashioned Victorian melodrama. I would never consider it as particularly original in compare to the likes of “MIDDLEMARCH” or “DANIEL DERONDA”.

“SILAS MARNER” tries its best to be profound on the same level as the other two Eliot stories I had mentioned. But I had a few problems with the narrative. What was the point behind Dunstan Cass’ disappearance and theft? Yes, he stole Silas’ hard earned money before he disappeared. I got the feeling that the stolen coins seemed to serve as a prelude to Silas’ emotional attachment to Eppie. But why have Dunstan take it? How else did his disappearance serve the story . . . even after his dead remains were found close by, years later? In Eliot’s novel, the discovery of Dunstan led brother Godfrey to form a guilty conscience over his own secret regarding young Eppie and confess to his wife. But in the movie, it was Godfrey and Nancy’s inability to conceive a child that seemed to finally force the former to confess. Unless my memories have played me wrong. Frankly, Dunstan struck me as a wasted character. Anyone else could have stolen Silas’ money.

I also noticed that Giles Foster, who had served as both screenwriter and director for this production, left out a few things from Eliot’s novel. I have never expect a movie or television to be an accurate adaptation of its literary source. But I wish Foster had shown how Eppie’s presence in Silas’ life had allowed him to socially connect with Raveloe’s villagers. Eliot did this by allowing her to lead him outside, beyond the confines of his cottage. The only person with whom Silas managed to connect was neighbor Dolly Winthrop, who visited his cottage to deliver him food or give advice on how to raise Eppie. I also noticed that in the movie, Silas had never apologized to another villager named Jem Rodney for his false accusation of theft. And Jem had never demanded it. How odd. I also wish that Foster could have included the segment in which Silas had revisited his former neighborhood, Lantern Yard. In the novel, Silas’ visit revealed how the neighborhood had transformed into a site for a factory and its citizens scattered to other parts. Silas’ visit to his old neighborhood served as a reminder of how his life had improved in Raveloe and it is a pity that audiences never saw this on their television screens.

Yes, I have a few quibbles regarding “SILAS MARNER”. But if I must be really honest, I still managed to enjoy it very much. Eliot had written a very emotional and poignant tale in which a lonely and embittered man finds a new lease on life through his connection with a child. Thanks to George Eliot’s pen and Giles Foster’s typewriter, this story was perfectly set up by showing how Silas Marner’s life fell into a social and emotional nadir, thanks to the betrayal of a “friend” and the easily manipulated emotions of his neighbors.

Once Silas moved to Raveloe, the television movie did an excellent, if not perfect, job of conveying how he re-connected with the world. It was simply not a case of Silas stumbling across a foundling and taking her in. Even though he had formed a minor friendship with Mrs. Winthrop, having Eppie in his life managed to strengthen their friendship considerably. The movie’s narrative also took its time in utilizing how the Cass family dynamics played such an important role in Silas’ life in Raveloe. After all, Godfrey’ secret marriage to Molly Farren brought Eppie into his life. And Dunstan’s theft of his funds led Silas to re-direct his attention from his missing coins to the lost Eppie. And both Godfrey and Nancy Cass proved to be a threat to Silas and Eppie’s future relationship.

The production values for “SILAS MARNER” proved to be solid. But if I must be honest, I did not find any of it – the cinematography, production designs and costume designs – particularly memorable. The performances in the movie was another matter. “SILAS MARNER” featured solid performances from the likes of Rosemary Martin, Jim Broadbent (before he became famous), Nick Brimble, Frederick Treves, Donald Eccles, Rosemary Greenwood; and even Elizabeth Hoyle and Melinda White who were both charming as younger versions of Eppie Marner.

Angela Pleasence certainly gave a memorable performance as Eppie’s drug addicted mother, Molly Farren. Patsy Kensit not only gave a charming performance as the adolescent Eppie, I thought she was excellent in one particular scene in which Eppie emotionally found herself torn between Silas and the Casses. Freddie Jones gave his usual competent performance as the emotional Squire Cass, father of both Godfrey and Dunstan. I was especially impressed by Jonathan Coy’s portrayal of the dissolute Dunstan Cass. In fact, I was so impressed that it seemed a pity that his character was only seen in the movie’s first half.

I initially found the portrayal of Nancy Lammeter Cass rather limited, thanks to Eliot’s novel and Foster’s screenplay. Fortunately, Nancy became more of a central character in the film’s second half and Jenny Agutter did a skillful job in conveying Nancy’s growing despair of her inability to have children and her desperation to adopt Eppie. I thought Patrick Ryecart gave one of the two best performances in “SILAS MARNER”. He did an excellent job of conveying Godfrey Cass’ moral ambiguity – his secrecy over his marriage to Molly Farren, the passive-aggressive manner in which he “took care” of Eppie through Silas and his willingness to use Eppie as a substitute for his and Nancy’s failure to have children. Ryecart made it clear that Godfrey was basically a decent man . . . decent, but flawed. The other best performance in “SILAS MARNER” came from leading man Ben Kingsley, who portrayed the title character. Kingsley did a superb job of conveying Silas’ emotional journey. And it was quite a journey – from the self-satisfied weaver who found himself shunned from one community, to the embittered man who stayed away from his new neighbors, to a man experiencing the joys and fears of fatherhood for the first time, and finally the loving man who had finally learned to re-connect with others.

Overall, “SILAS MARNER” is more than a solid adaptation of George Eliot’s novel. I did not find its production designs particularly overwhelming. I did enjoy Eliot’s narrative, along with Giles Foster’s adaptation rather enjoyable . . . if not perfect. But I cannot deny that what really made this movie work for me were the first-rate performances from a cast led by the always talented Ben Kingsley. Victorian melodrama or not, I can honestly say that I have yet to grow weary of “SILAS MARNER”.

“FEUD” Season One – “Bette and Joan” (2017) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the episodes from Season One (and the only season so far) of the F/X series called “FEUD”. Titled “Bette and Joan” and created by Ryan Murphy, the season starred Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon:

 

“FEUD” SEASON ONE – “BETTE AND JOAN” (2017) EPISODE RANKING

 

1. (1.05) “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)” – The fallout from the Oscar nominations for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” leads to underhanded tactics from Joan Crawford, while co-star Bette Davis relishes the opportunity to break a record.

 

 

2. (1.02) “The Other Woman” – With production on “Baby Jane?” underway, Bette and Joan form an alliance, but outside forces in the form of Warner Brothers studio chief Jack Warner, director Robert Aldrich and an unsuspecting bit player conspire against them.

 

 

3. (1.07) “Abandoned!” – Following the beginning of production for “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, the feud between Bette and Joan intensifies. Meanwhile, Bette reveals her vulnerabilities to Aldrich during their affair.

 

 

4. (1.03) “Mommie Dearest” – The “Baby Jane” production reaches its climax, while Bette and Joan clash over every last detail. And both actresses face private struggles.

 

 

5. (1.01) “Pilot” – Cast aside by Hollywood and struggling to maintain their film careers, Bette and Joan sign up for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” before they commence upon a feud.

 

 

6. (1.06) “Hagsploitation” – Hungry for another hit after “Baby Jane?”, Jack Warner pressures Aldrich into bringing the original team back together for a second project – “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. Meanwhile, Joan receives a surprising blackmail threat from her brother.

 

 

7. (1.08) “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” – In this finale, Joan accepts a leading role on a new film (her last one), despite her deteriorating health. Faced with a possible new rival, Bette reflects on her misplaced feud with Joan.

 

 

8. (1.04) “More or Less” – When “Baby Jane?” opens in movie theaters, Bette and Joan face uncertain prospects, Aldrich deals with his own personal and professional difficulties, and his assistant Pauline Jameson makes a surprising offer.

 

“STAR WARS: Memories of a Mother”

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“STAR WARS: MEMORIES OF A MOTHER”

Ever since the release of the 2005 movie, “STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH”, many STAR WARS have accused George Lucas of including a major blooper in the movie. In the eyes of these fans, Lucas’ major blooper was the death of Senator Padmé Amidala, wife of Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader and mother of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa.

How did Padmé die? Well in the 2005 movie, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi had paid her a visit in order to learn the whereabouts of Anakin, his former apprentice, following the fall of the Jedi Order. Padmé learned from Obi-Wan that Anakin had become the new apprentice of Sheev Palpatine, who is a Sith Lord. She also learned from the Jedi Master that Anakin had participated in the Jedi Purge at the Order’s Temple – a purge that included the deaths of all the Order’s younglings inside the Temple. Obi-Wan had questioned Padmé about Anakin’s whereabouts, but she refused to tell him. Instead, she departed for Mustafar to question Anakin about his actions, unaware that Obi-Wan had followed her. To make a long story short, Padmé tried to talk Anakin into dropping his Sith affiliation, she failed due to Obi-Wan’s sudden appeared (he had placed a tracker on her starship), Anakin attacked Padmé with a Force choke before he ended up in a lightsaber duel against his former master. The duel ended in defeat for Anakin, who ended up slowly burning to death on a lava bank, minus his limbs. Obi-Wan transported Padmé and the couple’s droids to a medical facility on a large asteroid above Polis Massa, where she gave birth to Luke and Leia. Then she died.

Many STAR WARS fans have been in an uproar over Padmé’s death in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” for nearly sixteen years. They complained that the manner of her death – allowing her despair over Anakin and the Republic to affect her health following the twins’ deaths. I have already written one or two articles on that subject. But they also complained that her death on Polis Massa is a major blooper. A plot hole. And they claim that the discussion between Luke and Leia about Padmé in the 1983 movie, “STAR TREK: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”, is the reason why Padmé’s death is a blooper. They claim that Leia’s memories of Padmé is proof that their mother should not have died immediately after their births in “REVENGE OF THE SITH”.

What exactly did Leia say to Luke when he had first questioned her about their mother? The following is their exchange:

Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?
Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
Luke: What do you remember?
Leia: Just images, really. Feelings.
Luke: Tell me.
Leia: She was very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me all this?

Why do these fans still believe Padmé Amidala’s death in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” is a plot hole, based on her daughter Leia Organa’s memories? I never understood this. In “RETURN OF THE JEDI”, Leia had never stated that she had memories of Padme alive and with her. Not once. This is something that so many STAR WARS fans had assumed what happened without bothering to think. Leia had made it clear in her conversation with Luke that her memories of Padme were vague and mainly based on emotions and images. Which means that she may have unintentionally used the Force after she was born or had dreams of Padme via the Force. When these fans were confronted with this explanation, they immediately dismissed it. And I never understood why. Why was that explanation so hard to consider? When Luke had first arrived on Dagobah in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, Luke had stated that it looked familiar to him . . . despite having never been there. Both Luke and Leia have inherited their Force sensitivity, due to their father, Anakin Skywalker, who was regarded by many as being unusually strong in the Force. The saga’s movies have more than verified this.

And yet . . . many fans have continued to criticize “REVENGE OF THE SITH” for Padmé’s death. They also claimed that she should have survived the twins’ births in order to raise Leia for a few years on Alderaan, the homeworld of her fellow senator, Bail Organa. What in the hell? No parent in his or her right mind would give up one child and hand over another; unless he, she or both were were irresponsible parents. Nor do I recall the last half hour of “REVENGE OF THE SITH” being some remake of the 1961 Disney movie, “THE PARENT TRAP”. I do not recall Padmé and Anakin getting a divorce and deciding to split up their twins.

I cannot believe that so many fans believed (and still do) it was natural for Padmé to give up Luke and hand him over to the Lars family on Tattooine; and at the same time, keep Leia and take the latter with her to Alderaan. Are there any STAR WARS fans who understand what it means to be a parent? If Padme had survived childbirth, chances are she would have given up both Luke and Leia for their safety and disappeared to some remote location. Or . . . she would have kept the twins and disappeared to some remote location. Or . . . events would have played out like it did in “REVENGE OF THE SITH” – with Padmé’s death after the twins’ birth, followed with the twins being separated and handed over to different families.

But the idea of Padmé giving up one twin and handing over the other without Anakin being involved is just ludicrous to me. For her to do something like this would make her a callous mother who had selfishly preferred one child over the other. Yet . . . these fans seemed to believe that Leia’s memories of Padme via the Force is ludicrous. And I do not understand this. Leia Organa is Force sensitive . . . like her brother Luke Skywalker, her son Ben Solo and her father, Anakin Skywalker. Have so many STAR WARS actually forgotten this? Apparently so. Perhaps they simply wanted another excuse to criticize the Prequel Trilogy. Who knows?

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

“HARRIET” (2019) Review

Many people are familiar with Harriet Tubman, the former slave-turned-Underground Railroad conductor-turned-Civil War operative-turned-political activist. She has appeared as a supporting character in a handful of television productions and the leading character in two other television productions. However, a full-length feature film has finally been made about the famous historical figure. That film is called “HARRIET”.

As I had earlier stated, there have been two television productions about the famous Underground Railroad conductor. One of them was an episode from the 1963-1964 historical anthology series “THE GREAT ADVENTURE” called (1.06) “Go Down, Moses”. It starred Ruby Dee. The other television production was the 1978 miniseries “A WOMAN CALLED MOSES”, which starred Cicely Tyson. Following the latter, the Harriet Tubman figure appeared in a few television productions about slavery and the Underground Railroad until the release of this new film.

“HARRIET” basically covered Tubman’s life during a nine-year period between 1849 and 1850, along with a sequence set in 1858. The movie began in 1849 Maryland with Harriet (or Araminta “Minty” Ross Tubman, as she was known then), along with her husband John Tubman and father Ben Ross (both who were free) approached Harriet’s owner Edward Bodress with a promise made by the latter’s ancestor that her mother Harriet “Rit” Ross would be freed by the age of 45, along with their children (including Harriet). Bodress refused to acknowledge the promise. He also forbade Harriet from seeing her husband John. Brodess’s adult son Gideon caught Minty praying for God to take Mr. Brodess. The latter died shortly afterward. Alarmed by this, Gideon decided to sell Minty as punishment. Suffering from spells that began after she had been struck in the head as a child, Minty had a vision of her being free and decided to run away. She convinced John to remain behind, in case he got caught and punished for escaping with her. Minty eventually reached Philadelphia and freedom. She managed to acquire a job, thanks to the assistance of Underground Railroad abolitionist/writer William Still and a fashionable free black woman named Marie Buchanon. After a few months in Philadelphia, Minty (who renamed herself as Harriet Tubman) returned to Maryland to retrieve John and discovered that he had remarried, believing she was dead. Instead, Harriet decided to escort some family members north to freedom and began her career as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.

I have been aware of Harriet Tubman ever since I was a child of nine years old. My mother had purchased a copy of Marcy Heidish’s 1976 novel called “A Woman Called Moses”, the basis for the 1978 miniseries. But “HARRIET” marked the first time that Tubman was featured as the a character in a motion picture, let alone the leading character. So naturally, I had to see it. I had some problems with the movie. One, I could easily see that it was not historical accurate. This is not a real problem for me. After seeing two television productions that erroneously featured Harriet Tubman operating in the Ohio River Valley, the historical inaccuracies in this film struck me as a piece of cake.

One example would be the scene during her own escape in which her new owner, Gideon Bodress, and a slave patrol cornered her on a bridge. Instead of surrendering, she evaded them by jumping into the river. Needless to say, no such thing happened, since her owner (Anthony Thompson), or any slave patrol were able to capture her during her journey to Philadelphia. But . . . I was able to tolerate this scene. Somewhat. I was also a bit confused about her relationship with John Tubman in this film. Director-writer Kasi Lemmons and co-writer Gregory Allen Howard portrayed Harriet or Minty’s marriage as loving and trouble free. This has not been the case in another Hollywood production I could think of. Unfortunately, no one really knows whether the Tubmans had experienced any marital strife before her flight from Maryland. So . . . I tolerated this portrayal. However, the movie indicated that Minty had suggested John not run with her so that he would not be caught aiding a runaway. This is false. According to history, John did not want her to run in the first place. They also made it clear that John had remarried because he had assumed Minty/Harriet was dead. I do not know whether this is true or not. But it seemed as if Lemmons and Howard seemed hell bent upon portraying John in a positive light as much as possible.

But there were changes in the narrative that left me scratching my head. “HARRIET” featured Minty making her escape from Maryland in the middle of the day . . . which I found odd. The movie had her working in a garden when someone warned her that Bodress had plans to sell her to the Deep South in order to alleviate family debts. No sooner had she received the warning, one of the plantation’s foremen appeared to grab her. Minty ran and . . . hid. She hid around the plantation for hours before she contacted her family and left. What made this even more odd is that Bodress did not learn of her escape from the foreman until hours later. Which I found very odd. Historically, most slave escapes began in the middle of the night, not in the middle of the day. Why did Minty wait so long to contact her family before her escape? And why did the plantation foreman wait so long to inform Bodress? Also, she made most of her journey by night and hid during the daytime. Which would have made that daytime encounter on the bridge with Bodress somewhat implausible. I can only assume Lemmons and Howard had added it for dramatic reasons.

In the movie, Minty/Harriet did not wait very long to return to Maryland and contact her family and John. After escorting several members of her family north, she returned to Maryland and helped others escape on several occasions before the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Now this is ridiculous. One, Tubman returned to Maryland to help some relatives escape at least three to four months after the law’s passage. I find it very hard to believe that she had made so many trips to Maryland between her own escape in September 1849 and when the fugitive law was passed in September 1850. Another troubling aspect of the movie was the sequence featuring the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. The movie featured a scene with former slaves – including Harriet – leaving en masse from the Philadelphia docks, while God knows how many slave catchers suddenly appeared to capture these fugitives. What the hell? I had felt as if I was watching a war movie with refugees escaping from an invaded city. Yes, many fugitive slaves were forced to flee the Northern states for Canada following the law’s passage. But not like THAT. Not like a scene from “CASABLANCA” or “THE WINDS OF WAR”.

I have two more complaints. Why did Lemmons and Howard added that . . . relationship between Harriet and Bodress? Why? It was bad enough that Gideon Bodress never existed. But Tubman had never recounted having to deal with the unwanted sexual interest or assault from any white man. And I got the impression that Lemmons wanted to include some watered down version of the Patsey-Edwin Epps relationship from the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE” – but without the overt violence and sex. It was obvious that Bodress had never laid a violent hand on Harriet in the film, aside from the slap on the face after he had overheard her wish for his father’s death. But I find it implausible that Gideon Bodress had never attempted to sexually assault her. Even when his father was alive. Another sequence featured Northern black and white members discussing the Fugitive Slave Act passage and whether it would be safe to continue the Underground Railroad. What I disliked about this sequence is that most of them seemed to have this attitude without the organization’s conductors appearing on Southern plantations to lead them, many slaves would not be willing to escape or would not succeed in escaping. And this was far from the truth. One could argue that this scene was a perfect example of patronization from Northern abolitionists. But Harriet did not point out that slaves were capable of escaping on their own. Instead, she simply argued for the continuation of the Underground Railroad. Which simply made her equally patronizing to me.

One would think that I disliked “HARRIET”. That person would be wrong. I actually enjoyed it very much. Despite some of the narrative choices, lightweight characterizations and historical inaccuracies; “HARRIET” was both an entertaining and interesting film. One, it is nice to see Hollywood produce a feature film about the former abolitionist. “HARRIET” is a thoughtful drama about a period in United States history about which very few Americans want to discuss, let alone contemplate. Like other Hollywood productions, the movie mainly featured Tubman’s early career as an Underground Railroad conductor. I had assumed that it would also focus on her Civil War experiences, due to some publicity stills released before the film hit the theaters. But the movie only included a coda, featuring Tubman’s participation in a raid during the war. “HARRIET” was, without a doubt, about her role with the Underground Railroady.

Due to the film’s focus on Harriet’s career as an Underground Railroad conductor, it did not focus that strongly on her family life . . . with the exceptions of her attempts to lead them to freedom. Many critics have complained about this. But I can understand why Lemmons only focused on one aspect of Harriet’s life. This was a feature-length film that ran nearly two hours, not a television miniseries. Frankly, I thought it was smart of her to focus one one aspect of Harriet’s life, considering the format she had used. And she focused on one of the former slave/abolitionist’s most famous period in her life – namely that as an Underground Railroad conductor. Only through this story arc was the movie able to somewhat focus on her connection to her family. In fact, one the most interesting arcs in this narrative proved to be a sequence that featured Tubman’s attempts to rescue her sister Rachel and the latter’s children.

This focus on Harriet’s career with the Underground Railroad allowed Lemmons and Howard to reveal Harriet as action heroine she truly was. The writers’ narrative arc also featured some well staged action sequences. Among my favorite sequences are Harriet’s initial escape from Maryland and her successful rescue of Rachel’s children in the film’s second half. Both struck me as well-shot sequences that featured a great deal of more tension and drama than action. And I thought the focus on these two aspects may have allowed the sequences to be more effective without the obvious action. I also enjoyed the movie’s final action sequence in which Harriet attempted to rescue and lead her parents to freedom in the late 1850s. Not only was this sequence filled with the usual solid action for this trope, it featured a tense-filled final confrontation between Harriet and Bodress.

I certainly did not have a problem with the film’s production values. I thought Warren Alan Young did an exceptional job in re-creating antebellum America, especially in scenes that featured the Bodress plantation, Baltimore (at least I think it is), Canada and especially Philadelphia. I believe Young was ably supported by John Troll’s sharp and colorful cinematography, Wyatt Smith’s film editing, Kevin Hardison and Christina Eunji Kim’s art direction, and Marthe Pineau’s set decorations. I also have to commend Paul Tazewell for his costume designs. I thought Tazewell did an excellent job of conveying the movie’s setting and characters through his costumes, as shown in the images below:

I have a confession to make. Aside from a handful, I was not exactly blown away by the performances featured in “HARRIET”. I am not claiming that most of the performances were terrible or even mediocre. I simply found them solid . . . or serviceable. There were a few that I found slightly above being serviceable – like Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr., Zackary Momoh, Tim Guinee, Henry Hunter Hall, Joseph Lee Anderson, Jennifer Nettles and Omar J. Dorsey. But like I had said, there were a few that struck me as memorable. One of them Clarke Peters, who gave a subtle, yet warm portrayal of Harriet/Minty’s father, Ben Ross. I was also impressed by Vanessa Bell Calloway, who gave an exceptional performance as the abolitionist’s emotional and slightly edgy mother, Harriet Ritt Ross. Joe Alwyn did an excellent job of portraying Gideon Bodress as a slightly complex character without transforming the character into a one-note, moustache-twirling villain. And I really enjoyed Vondie Curtis-Hall’s subtle, yet colorful portrayal of Reverend Green, the local free black minister, who also happened to be a member of the Underground Railroad.

But the performance that really counted in “HARRIET” came from leading lady Cynthia Erivo. It is almost a miracle that Erivo managed to give such an exceptional performance as Harriet Tubman. I say this, because Lemmons and Howard had failed to fully portray Tubman as a complex human being with not only virtues, but also a few flaws. Their Tubman almost struck me as a borderline Mary Sue, due to their determination to basically portray her as an action heroine. But they did provide some intimate moments between Tubman, her family and friends. And this gave Erivo the opportunity to skillfully convey the warm, yet strong-willed individual underneath the heroic facade. This was especially apparent in scenes that featured Tubman’s desperation to put as much distance between her and the Bodress plantation as possible; her determination to return to Maryland to rescue her family; and her discovery that her husband had married another woman. Thanks to her superb performance, Erivo managed to earn both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. And if I must be brutally honest, she deserved them.

Overall, I enjoyed “HARRIET”. I have always been interested in Harriet Tubman as a historical figure and was happy to see a motion picture about her. It was not the best or most compelling biopic I have ever seen. Nor was it the best biopic about Tubman I have ever seen. But I cannot deny that thanks to Kari Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard’s interesting screenplay, Lemmons’ solid direction and a first-rate cast led by Cynthia Erivo, “HARRIET” is a movie that I will be more than happy to watch on many occasions in the future.

 

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Favorite Episodes of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” (1984-1992)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from the 1984-1992 BBC series, “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE”. The series starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple:

 

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MISS MARPLE” (1984-1992)

 

1. “A Murder Is Announced” (1985) – An unusual announcement in the newspaper leads the curious inhabitants of Chipping Cleghorn to Letitia Blacklock’s home, where they become witnesses to a murder.

 

 

2. “Sleeping Murder” (1987) – When a young bride moves into a small town villa, long repressed childhood memories of witnessing a murder come to the surface. She and her husband seeks Miss Jane Marple’s help in solving the murder.

 

 

3. “A Caribbean Mystery” (1989) – While on vacation at a West Indian resort hotel, Miss Marple correctly suspects that the apparently natural death of a retired British major is actually the work of a murderer planning yet another killing.

 

 

4. “A Pocket Full of Rye” (1985) – When a handful of grain is found in the pocket of a murdered businessman, Miss Marple seeks a murderer with a penchant for nursery rhymes.

 

 

5. “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” (1992) – At a reception for a fading film star shooting a screen comeback at Miss Marple’s home village of St. Mary’s Mead, a gushing fan is poisoned by a drink meant for the actress.